Customer Relationship Management: Strengthen Your “CR” by Leveraging Your “M”

Picture this: It’s the year 2000 and you’re a pharma sales rep. Before you leave home, you boot up your laptop and pull up your “A” list, otherwise known as your top prescribers. It’s been a couple of weeks since you visited Dr. Summers and Dr. Player, so you decide to pay each of them a visit.

Your objective as a sales rep is simple: To get your doctors to verbally commit to writing product. Getting your gatekeepers and doctors to like you is the first step in achieving your objective.

At the end of the day, you enter details of the calls you made that day, including any samples distributed, into the CRM tool. Technically, you were supposed to do this between calls but it takes too long to connect to the network. The only time you prepare a pre-call plan is if your manager is with you. Even then, you spend minimal time on it because you have nothing concrete to rely on except the prescription data you received at your monthly team meeting—and what your doctors said they would do.

Fast forward 15 years. The sales rep’s objective is still the same: To get customers to write product. What has changed dramatically since then is how sales reps can achieve that objective amid increased regulation and shifting economic forces. The customer relationship is still the focus, and the need for a different type of management of those relationships has never been greater.

Managing the customer relationship requires a different approach. In the last 10 years, CRM has undergone many changes. It has gone mobile, digital and social, adopting a SaaS, multichannel focus with a self-service customer model. Unlike the pharma sales reps of the past, who were forced to rely on their instinct and limited reporting to inform call planning, sales reps today must gain a deeper understanding of their customers so they can execute brand strategy while managing the customer journey. For this to happen, reps must receive just-in-time, locally relevant information and analytics to prepare them for each engagement.

Having the right technology makes all the difference. Now picture this: You’re still a pharma sales rep in 2015. You log into your CRM from anywhere to plan your calls for the day. You create a segmented list by therapeutic area, business line and additional profiling criteria and begin to review the list of customers. You like having visibility into key messages your HCPs receive from other stakeholders. Visibility into the marketing team’s campaigns has helped to create a more unified voice when calling on your customers. This combined effort has helped strengthen overall messaging.

Reviewing your list, you click on Dr. Summers’ contact card. Three days ago, Dr. Summers downloaded a white paper and just yesterday registered for a symposia event on the same topic. Armed with this information, you decide to present her with a new, relevant clinical presentation during your call today to reinforce your message. With a Closed-Loop Marketing (CLM) application, you have role-based flexibility to customize the presentation. Dr. Summers asks a lot of questions, so you have the flexibility to delete certain predefined sequences in advance to make the presentation more concise. In time, with these tools, you will be able to see trends specific to Dr. Summers that help personalize your delivery channels, message frequency, and content to her unique preferences.

After lunch, you decide to deviate from the call plan and visit Dr. Player. You hadn’t planned to see Dr. Player at all today, but an important alert from your decision support technology notified you that his office is around the corner, and that in the last week he has written more of a newly launched, competing brand—not yours. You believe a face-to-face visit promoting a new co-pay program aimed to increase new patient starts might neutralize the immediate risk to your brand’s TRx. You leave Dr. Player’s office confident that your visit, along with strategic follow-up, will prove fruitful.

On your way to Dr. Summers’ office you learn of a road closure that prevents you from arriving on time. Preferring not to reschedule your appointment, you decide to hold the meeting virtually. While face-to-face is normally the ideal channel for Dr. Summers, you were in a similar situation a few months ago and found that she was very responsive to a remote call. Since you’ll be presenting her with the new clinical presentation, you will easily be able to remotely consult with a medical science liaison (MSL) during the call should the need arise. Last time, the video chat feature was a huge hit, extending the duration of the call twice as long as it has been historically.

After the call, you document your notes and log off for the day, satisfied that you moved “beyond the call plan” to drive sales.

Look Toward the Future, But Learn From the Past

So how do you know whether or not you are equipped with the right technology to leverage the “M”? Start by asking yourself:

  • Do we have the ability to view our customers from every dimension possible and share that knowledge across relevant stakeholders?
  • Can we control the customer journey for greatest impact?
  • Are we equipping reps with meaningful and actionable analytics that align national strategy applied to the local level?
  • Is our call plan model flexible, designed to accommodate traditional and remote interactions?

As the Navy Seal motto goes, “The only easy day was yesterday.” In many ways, the life science industry was a lot easier to navigate a decade ago. We can cultivate stronger customer relationships by managing smarter with the right tools now. Let’s lay the foundation to make our jobs easier tomorrow than they are today.

  • James Corbett

    James Corbett is Director of U.S. Sales Enablement and Product Management of IMS Health. James works across functional areas and stakeholders to deliver high value technology and services programs to IMS Health customers. He has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry leading teams in Sales Operations, Commercial Excellence and Field Management, including management positions at Purdue Pharma and UCB.